Thursday, 4 July 2002  
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Independent Commissions and national renewal

The news that three in the series of much-awaited Independent Commissions would be established in August, is likely to have been greeted by the public with a deep sigh of relief. Given the general consensus that the over politicization of local society is responsible for many of our ills, Independent Commissions for the police, elections and the public service are timely measures which could help lay the basis for a less turbulent Sri Lanka.

We, therefore, urge the speedy setting-up of these institutions, now that the necessary backdrop for the renewed enjoyment of fundamental rights has been formed by the current peace process.

The 1972 Republican Constitution, although a historical necessity, brought many a problem in its wake and one of these was the relentless politicization of almost all sections of the body-politic. National development was and still is priority number one but when public servants lose their autonomy to the politician, the country's march towards the worthy goal is considerably slowed. This has been our experience over the decades. Restoring to all sections of the public service their autonomy and independence of action could set us on the path to national renewal.

Looking back, it could be said that the irresponsible exercise of power by politicians and some in the seats of decision-making, has been one of the principal factors in our gradual decline as a people. Although the term bureaucracy usually carries unpleasant connotations it is not so in the Indian context, for instance. In India a relatively independent public service has proved a vital factor in national development. This is mainly because, besides possessing the necessary managerial and other expertise, the Indian bureaucracy has been allowed to do its job by the politicians.

It is such a milieu that we wish for Sri Lanka. The Lankan senior public service should be in a position, for instance, to evolve and implement development projects for the land without being brow-beaten by politicians into carrying out their whims and fancies.

The need for independent police and election personnel couldn't, likewise, be emphasized enough. The crime wave in the country could be attributed in good measure to the excessive involvement of some politicians in the conduct of law and order functions. If diligent police officers are ordered by puffed-up politicians to release from detention offenders who have been colluding with these politicians, the dire result could be a severe weakening of the law and order machinery. Likewise, if police personnel are promoted on the basis of their political affiliations and not on merit, we will have a situation where most police officers are disinterested in their duties.

Even in the case of elections, the relevant officials should feel free to carry out their responsibilities in accordance with their consciences. Their freedom of action should never be curtailed by politicians who enjoy almost unlimited power.

It is to put curbs on such unbounded power that Independent Commissions are necessary. Greater justice will prevail in Lanka once public servants are allowed to function under autonomous bodies, which would be immune to tampering by power-drunk politicos.

Affno

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